Strange, now, to think of it, now that I was so far from that world, sucked back into the one I’d thought I’d peeled off of me like a sunburn.
Winter Sister, at its heart, is about more than the death of Persephone, Sylvie’s older sister. It’s about their mother’s ‘history of silence’ and strange ‘dark days’. Sylvie, before the tragedy of Persephone’s murder destroyed her mother, lived in the spotlight of her mother’s love, a tenderness that never seemed to shine over Persephone. Sylvie is the favored one, because she reminds their mother of the man who got away, according to her mom. With their independent mom, who could “love us more than a hundred fathers ever could” there was never any reason to know who those flings were. Perseophone never quite feels that all encompassing adoration and attention, and could have used a father’s love.
Sylvie thinks she harbors all the secrets that matter, that her shameful act the last night she saw her sister alive makes her as guilty of her murder as the actual killer. Persephone was forbidden to date, her mother knew nothing about Ben and their volatile relationship, nor the hidden fingertip sized bruises he left on her beautiful skin. Sylvie knows he killed her sister with his dangerous, brutal love but no one would ever accuse the mayor’s son of such an act, despite the reports that she mattered as “one of Spring Hill’s own”, Sylvia knows her sister is nothing to the town. In truth, they were never truly a part of Spring Hill. It takes the loss of her mother, when she most needs her to be present and the passage of time to see clearly what she missed sixteen years ago.
Present day and Sylvie works in a tattoo parlor, no longer known as ‘Persephone’s Sister’, having long ago shed that skin and reinvented a past for herself that doesn’t carry the tragic air of loss. In her new life, her sister hasn’t been murdered. On the night of her thirtieth birthday, the call comes about her mother’s cancer. Aunt Jill had stepped up and cared for her when her mother retreated to her room and from life in the aftermath of Persephone’s murder. Now, Aunt Jill is needed desperately by her own child, stretched too thin it’s time Sylvie do her duty and return home to help her mother through treatment. Never once had her mother checked in on her, not once did she give her the comfort she desperately needed after losing her beloved sister and now, she’s meant to play devoted, caring daughter to a mother she hasn’t spoken to in years, still just as bitter and mean as ever. To make matters worse, Ben works as a nurse at the cancer center, Ben who Sylvie is adamant got away with killing her sister.
In confronting the past, she must also question her mother’s coldness towards her sister all those years before she was killed. Could she have been the one abusing her? Why did it seem like they both shared a different mother? Has what she believed about Ben been wrong all this time? If not Ben, then who had reason to hurt Persephone? It is about being too young to understand the dynamics of relationships, being between childhood and adult things. It is a bond between sisters and how their mother’s attention or lack there of spills over into their interactions with each other, fueling resentment at times, and yet Persephone and Sylvie always chose each other, until one night Sylvie thinks she knows a way to save her sister from all consuming dangerous love. A decision she will regret all her life, a boulder of grief she carries in her gut.
Why didn’t her mother ever care enough to share in their grief together? Why is Ben telling a story that puts Persephone in a wildly different light? Maybe she didn’t know her sister as well as she thought, or built her own version of their love based on the evidence she saw. Could she really have been wrong all this time? Her mother is sober now, and it’s frightening, her vulnerability. “How much of Persephone’s relationship with Mom had I missed? How many small but accumulating hurts and dismissals had I filtered out over the years, swathed, as I’d been, in Mom’s arms?” Anaïs Nin once wrote, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are” and that could be the title of this book. The truths Sylvie has held in her mind begin to disintegrate upon her return home, with the clarity of adult eyes. She is stunted, she hasn’t been living her life fully since that night. I found what moved me more than the ‘who done it’ is the dysfunction in her family, that each person’s history in the same home can be outrageously different, and the truth lies somewhere in between. Youth is often a cloud that plays with memory. Fear, too, can color how we behave, or raise our children but when a child needs their mother, there is never an explanation good enough to exonerate her actions. Yes, read it!
Publication Date: February 5, 2019